We use icons in our writing all the time, especially so when place is critical to the plot. A cozy mystery set in London, and a mention of Big Ben or the Tower of London is obligatory. What would a Cold War thriller be without a mention of The Berlin Wall or The Kremlin? Central Park is the venue of many a murder in a crime procedural set in New York City. I’m sure you can think of many others.
Mentioning an icon is the quick, easy way to put the reader into exactly where in your world the action takes place. Trust me, say “Central Park,” and the average reader knows exactly where the story takes place. Even if he or she has never been to New York City, a reader has seen enough pictures or TV shows to be able to place the locale.
Writers who invent new worlds or use more obscure locales have to do more description of place and setting so the reader can “see” it. Especially if you make up your own town or city, you have to provide just the right balance of back story to make the place believable. For example, The Lord of the Rings trilogy or The Hobbit wouldn’t be the same without the vivid, rich descriptions of Middle Earth or Mordor. We need to see all those different kingdoms in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice books because they are just as crucial to the story as any of the characters. Striking that balance can be difficult, because you can bog the reader down in minutia.
The photo prompt for this week’s Friday Fictioneers is one of those icons where just one glance at it, and you know exactly where you are. You may even know “when you are” by the type of picture or the other items in it. Juxtaposed as it was with the twelfth anniversary of September 11, 2001, it will likely evoke many emotionally charged 100-word stories this week. That’s a good thing, because we must never forget.
The picture prompted one of my rare forays into poetry, probably a good thing, the rarity, that is. We recently lost the great Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, and his poetry always had a strong sense of place, even for an American one generation removed from her Irish roots. His poems could put me in a peat bog, on a battlefield, in a thatched-roof hut, even though I’ve never seen those things with my own eyes. I’ve tried to do that in “The New Colossus.” As usual, if you don’t see the link on the title, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tag, then select the story from the drop-down list.